In this interview, our Digital Manger Chris Nichol speaks to Max Buck one of Vector's Managing Consultants to see what the demands of managing a team in such a competitive industry, and how he gets the best out of people under his command.
Firstly, I’d like you to summarise your time with Vector.
My 10th year anniversary has just gone which is crazy to think about! I started in 2012 when I was 20. The first step for me was in our resourcing function, which is where I learnt the basics of the recruitment industry and the corporate IT world. I resourced full time for 18 months, then I spent six months shadowing a senior consultant part-time. It took roughly two years to move over to be a full-time consultant, I was managed by a senior consultant for 2 years, then did 12 months in a stand-alone role before I started managing Reilly.
It took me roughly 5 years to get to the point that I felt like I was ready to manage people. I remember that one of the managing consultants moved on and there was an opportunity for a consultant to start building a team and even though there had been a few discussions about me managing in the future, it came around far quicker than I’d expected, but I had to give it a shot.
Our MD said that Reilly would be a good match for me, then before I knew it, I was looking after him. He did the same journey through the organisation that I did, part-time with me, part-time with the resource team, then eventually full-time under my guidance.
Can you run through the structure of your current team?
Of course, I’m currently managing three consultants at the moment. My most senior Team member is Jodie who has been with me for a year and a half now, Victoria who is 8 months into her journey with us, and Tommy who started last week. I think I’ve got a great blend of personalities and experience now and I can’t wait to see how they develop as consultants and as people.
What made you want to take the leap into management?
I'm natural leader in life anyway. In my friendship group, if we’ve got something to do, I'll naturally take the lead in organising everything.
I can't say I joined Vector thinking, “Oh, I want to be a manager”. That wasn’t my initial plan, I just joined wanting to earn a decent wage for myself.
One thing that influenced me was the acknowledgement of the opportunity that my manager gave me, and the time she spent with me. I wouldn't be where I am now or half the consultant I am without that time and patience and input from her. When I was moving over to be a consultant, she was the only person that was willing to give me a shot, and from then on, I wanted to make sure that there was always someone willing to bring through the next generation.
In this industry, there can be an issue with successful senior consultants, they are not necessarily willing to share their knowledge and time with others. I felt that was quite selfish. I was given an opportunity early on in my career, and I feel that it is only fair to give someone else that same opportunity. A lot of people that do well don't seem to want to invest in other people. I think if someone looks like they are going to be the right fit for this job, and they are applying themselves then I think they deserve an opportunity. Obviously that investment in time and effort needs to be reciprocated. I’m not going to help someone who doesn't put effort in, because that's a waste of both of our time. When I manage someone, I have to believe it will go somewhere. I know not everyone's going to work out, but I have to fully commit myself to the process.
I think the same about life in general. People aren't given enough opportunity, and everyone deserves a chance to shine. I don’t care whether you're working at the local shop or you're the MD of a company, everyone should be given the same chance to succeed and be happy. If you are successful then someone was willing to invest in you and give you the opportunity to achieve, and I think you are duty bound to do the same. So that's why I want to try and help as much as I can.
What do you think was the main lesson that you were taught when you were being managed?
The relationship with my manager wasn’t perfect, probably because she hadn’t done a lot of management before me. There are elements of her management that I still use today, and some things that I make sure I will never do with someone under my care, so I’ve taken a mixture of the good and bad.
Interestingly when I first started as a manager, I think my management style was closer to my old managers than it is now. I think I mimicked her because it was the only thing I knew. I was young, it was my first job, I hadn’t managed anyone before. I was still trying to properly establish myself as a consultant as well, and I think I took a lot of what she did as gospel and tried to implement those techniques on someone else. Some of it worked and some of it didn't work.
I think the main thing that she did for me was to make sure I was always working hard, that I had respect for everyone, and turned up on time. She taught me a lot about the job, but I think she also taught me quite a bit about how to present myself.
How would you describe your management style? Has it evolved?
I think to start with, I probably tried to rule with an iron fist. But then I think back, and our company culture used to be quite different. We were a lot more rigid, and I think that approach wasn’t uncommon throughout the company.
I’ve eased up as the years have gone by, but also, you have to look at the characters that you're dealing with as well. Reilly is such a big character, that I think he needed someone to be quite tough on him. I'm not saying the way I dealt with him was perfect, because I’d definitely manage him differently if I did it all again now.
Reilly was always working hard, but he can be very resistant to doing certain things. He will kick up a bit of stink about stuff and sometimes just to try and prove his point. I was maybe a bit harsh to him sometimes, but I love that we could be so direct with each other because that’s how I was with my manager. I'd kick off at her and we’d argue, but then we’d always resolve the issue. I was basically a product of my managerial environment.
So yeah, I would say to start with I was very strict, almost micromanaging (by today’s standards). But I genuinely think that Reilly benefitted from that. Sometimes I think if I had someone who was a similar character to Reilly again how would I be? I would do some things differently, but I would undoubtably be stricter with them than I am with Jodie for example, because of their different character traits.
Now, I like to understand the person, and then adapt how I interact with them based on their personality. For example, Jodie, I knew loosely before she joined my team, so I had an idea of how to get the best from her. I knew I couldn't be how I was with Reilly with Jodie, it would have never worked. I knew I needed to be a bit more encouraging with Jodie, and I think I managed to adapt my style quickly even though she was only the second person I’d been responsible for.
How would you measure or define the success of a junior consultant?
Early on in a recruiter’s career, I think it’s impossible to truly tell how well someone's going to do, and if someone tells you that they can then they are lying. I don't think anyone could have realised how good Reilly was going to be when he first started. It's such a long journey and you just can’t predict what’s going to happen. There’s no definitive path to success in recruitment, and you just don't know when things are going to click for someone.
I think sometimes things can look like they have clicked and then all of a sudden, they start regressing, which we've seen plenty of times. Complacency is a killer in this industry. People feel like they've made it and then suddenly things slip, and they can’t recover. I think as a company we are very good at spotting this early and minimising the impact it can have one someone’s confidence.
If you look at my team now, Jodie’s success will be very different to Victoria’s success. I think I'll celebrate successes more with these two than I did with Reilly as he was very good at seeing the positives, so it was more about keeping him grounded.
What would you say your biggest weakness is as a manager?
If you ask my team then probably lots of things! And they are right, there’s always lots of things I could improve on. I think my main issue to work on is that sometimes with new people, when a situation arises I will try to over-engineer the plan that I want them to put in place - but then I have taken control of the situation, which is a positive and a negative. It uses my experience to solve the problem but it doesn’t always allow people to solve things their own way, or even make a mistake their own way and then learn from it. I try and remind myself regularly that there's more than one way to skin a cat and do my best to allow my team to work to their own strengths rather than mine.
There’s lots of ups and downs in recruitment, especially as a junior consultant. How do you manage people through the highs and lows of the job?
I think one of the most important parts is to manage expectations from the start and make sure you continually vocalise it as well. Keeping as level-headed as possible always makes dealing with tough times easier, so I try my best to show that to the team. I want to keep myself as level as possible whether I’m making a placement or dealing with a termination.
I also try my best to find out what makes them tick. Although, that in itself, is a bit of a balancing act - showing an interest without getting involved too much in their life. I really enjoy finding out what they want to work towards. So then when they have a little bit of success, I can remind them that they are edging closer to their goals. I think everyone needs to have some sort of goal to work towards with our job, because it’s tough and you can easily get demoralised if you don’t regularly remind yourself why you are coming to work.
Finally, I think the best way to keep people motivated is to lead by example. I wouldn't ever ask someone or get someone to try and do something that I wouldn’t do myself. I try and show them if it’s good enough for me, and if I’m sat there doing it, then you can do it too. I don't think “I'm the team manager and I can do as I please, but you need to hold yourself to a different set of higher standards because you are new”. I like to be early; I’m not swanning in whenever I want or benefiting off the back of other people’s hard work. I think if people can see their manager working hard then it makes things easier for them to know how to succeed and it should reduce their chance of getting demoralised.
What do you find the most rewarding part of management?
This question is an easy one! It’s without a doubt, seeing someone that you have nurtured succeed. I’d like everyone I manage to be at the same level or even better than me. I love the fact the Reilly has gone on to do so well for himself, it’s incredible to see. So my driver now is to get the other people under my guidance to get to that point as well, starting with Jodie!